Developmental Psychologist, Dr. Ken McNeilly, transfers his dissertation onto the stage for this year’s Fringe Festival – in a very musical manner. Straight from his four hundred page dissertation, Beyond the ‘Bedrooms of the Nation’, Dr. McNeilly composes a musical adventure through the lives of four children with queer-identified parents. The production explores personal experiences, based on scientific research, which revolve around the challenges that children and teens face in a heteronormative Canadian Society. Through musical interludes and comedic moments, audiences are set to realize that we all have more in common than we may have initially thought.
Based on years of theatrical experience and musical skill set, Dr. McNeilly produces The Common Ground as “a unique entry point for people to have access to these stories.” When discussing the decision to promote the narrative in a different way, the musical genre was quite simply the right choice. The original dissertation includes nine interviewees with gay and lesbian-identified parents. None of the characters are exact equivalents, but rather serve as symbolic key elements from the research. Due to the sixty minute Fringe limit, aspects from these nine children and teens were amalgamated into the four characters (Owen, Ellie, Christie, and Victoria) to make sure their stories were well represented.
Many of the research participants were from Toronto, with a small minority representing a makeup of small town settings. In bringing this production to rural and small communities, Dr. McNeilly expresses that the audience’s reaction would ultimately be different compared to urban settings. One of the production’s major themes circles around the idea of straight kids serving as ambassadors between the gay and straight communities. Based on these ambassadors, the nature of the stories serves as “an entry point for people who have no experience for theatre with a queer theme.”
In building on the immense educational potential, the overall message would deliver well to those in need of hearing about non-traditional families. Dr. McNeilly explained the possibility of touring within our education system, and he additionally mentioned the option of an evolving script. While the dissertation thread is woven throughout, it doesn’t necessarily need to be mentioned. As the show primarily focuses on the children’s experiences, there are not many interactions with the parents. This, he exclaimed, is a powerful moment that could be further developed.
Beyond the Fringe, the sky is the limit. There are multiple themes from the dissertation that could be revisited or rewoven into the script. As none of the research participants had trans-identified parents, there was nothing that could be concluded or worked in. Dr. McNeilly feels there are a lot of overlapping themes with trans parents, but also many unique moments. Seeing as this is informed theatre, Dr. McNeilly would have to break out his research abilities once more. Another interesting dynamic to be played upon would be the inclusion of a child with straight parents and the emotions that accompany that character. “My ultimate goal,” he describes, “is to be so specific that [the message] ends up being universal.”
The Common Ground plays at the Randolph Theatre, as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival, until July 13th. For more information about the show, please visit http://phenomenontheatrix.com. Tickets to the performance can be purchased in advanced by visitingwww.torontofringe.com.